Particularly striking in Rush’s books is the rich development of both action and thought. His stories are stuffed with what the author calls ‘thought episodes.’ Norman Rush’s idiosyncratic, strong-willed people act and think for themselves — an independence of mind scarce in contemporary literature.
Saunders’s Kafkaesque tales of humiliation, complicity, and dehumanization had struck an exposed nerve in the era of pervasive surveillance, smartphones, and bitter irony. But I wasn’t prepared for how moving several of the stories in this volume were — and how indelibly they’ve stayed in my mind.
Last semester, at UC Riverside, the novelist Susan Straight began the class “Mixed-Race Literature and the American Experience” with a simple question: “How many of you are often asked, What are you?” In an essay about the class, she relates what they learned, which includes the observation that hair is weirdly important in America. (Related: The Millions published an essay by Straight on Toni Morrison’s Sula.)
I reread and recommend Kelly Link’s collection Magic For Beginners, and I specifically adore one story, “The Faery Handbag.” It’s an incredible mash-up of fairytale and conventional story of love and loss, with a speculative element and other disparate items jammed in, too, including and most importantly, a grandmother’s lost handbag that literally contains a village.
Specktor’s gorgeous book, about the flawed, chauvinist, talented film agent Beau Rosenwald, as tender as he is damaged, made me feel like my native city had been properly seen. It made me feel like a piece of fiction had finally and properly seen me. And if you’ve never even been to Los Angeles? No matter. Specktor’s prose alone is enough to lure you in: it’s sharply observed and nimble, like a more mischievous cousin of John Cheever, and his characters are wonderfully and deeply complicated, wounded and secretive.